Philippines May Legalize Online Gambling – For Local Operators Only
The Philippines’ controversial strongman president Rodrigo Duterte has never been a huge fan of online gambling.
But hard times mean tough decisions. The combination of China’s crackdown on foreign gambling operations serving Chinese players, coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic shuttering local land-based casinos, may be convincing Mr. Duterte and his government to think again.
The country’s regulator, the Philippines Amusement and Gaming Corp (PAGCOR), recently told Asia Gaming that “during the lockdowns this year, proposals from operators of land-based properties to accept bets online from known patrons only were received by PAGCOR. Concerned departments are currently conducting studies related to the proposals.”
This could see online casino gaming debut for Filipino players. The country has had legal online casino services of Philippine Offshore Gambling Operations (or POGOs) operating in the capital Manilla for years – but not for Filipino gamblers.
The country must currently be looking for an answer to some of its financial woes. The physical casino sector was forced to shut up shop in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic and only opened again in late August with capacity restrictions.
Only one Filipino operator has released its stats for the year – Belle Corp, which runs the City of Dreams Resort and Casino in Manila. Belle Corp reported a 97% loss in revenue, as nearly all of the gambling demand in the country comes from foreign tourists, which have been scarce since March.
China’s crackdown has also hit PAGCOR’s tax income hard. As we reported at the beginning of the year, POGOs that serve Chinese customers were a massive source of revenue for the country.
By some reports, over 20% of all office space in Manila was at one time rented out by POGOs and their affiliate or partner companies.
The industry was worth some $11 billion a year, bringing huge tax numbers to PAGCOR. That overall revenue has dropped by 95% since the pandemic and China’s anti-gambling crusades have hit home.
As many as 22 out of 55 POGOs have yet to reopen their offices since closing them during the early stages of the pandemic.
It’s not clear whether they will return, either, as the increasing fragility of the Chinese market becomes apparent.
The Filipino gambling regulator is a huge investor in state infrastructure projects and other social initiatives, which is even more vital during a pandemic.
President Duterte, who last year told POGOS they could be “shuttered if they make a mistake,” has changed his tune somewhat since the hole in his country’s finances became apparent.
Just a few weeks ago, PAGCOR hurriedly set out on a path to legalizing bets on online cockfighting streams. Officials were worried that unlicensed and unsanitary physical events would not only deprive them of taxes but also potentially further the local spread of COVID-19.
If this rather niche and old-school (though popular in the Philippines) form of gambling can be legalized, online casinos might come into consideration as well.
Although we don’t have any more details than that first statement from the beginning of our report, government and industry insiders agree that a concrete announcement is highly likely to arrive in the next few weeks.
For the latest updates on this evolving story, plus much more from the online casino world all over the globe, keep checking online.casino/news.